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"The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" is thoroughly, surprisingly entertaining but not always for the reasons that the people behind it intended.
The 10-part series is a taut drama that effectively brings back the media sensation that surrounded the killings of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson and the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. It's a fascinating character study of the people involved.
And, at times, it plays like a campy "Saturday Night Live" sketch that will make you laugh out loud or, at the very least, make you roll your eyes.
The 10-hour drama not to be confused with ESPN's 10-part documentary "OJ: Made in America," which will air in June runs from the night of the murders to the verdict in the criminal trial. Scriptwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander adapted Jeffrey Toobin's book "The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson"; Toobin consulted on the project.
"This is the story about everything that obsesses the American people," Toobin said. "This is the story about race, sex, violence, sports, Hollywood, and the only eyewitness is a dog."
Even though the verdict is so well known, the miniseries maintains a sense of suspense.
"The scripts … read to me like a thriller," said executive producer Ryan Murphy, who also directs some episodes."I thought that I had known everything about that case. I quickly found out that I did not."
The 10-parter is not exclusively focused on O.J. (Cuba Gooding Jr.), it's about those in his inner circle; his defense team; the prosecution team; and several of the people who became almost inexplicably famous as a result of the murder and trial.
Remember Kato Kaelin (Billy Magnussen)? Faye Resnick (Connie Britton)? Judge Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi)?
One episode is told from the point of view of the jury.
"The People v. O.J." is at its best when it delves into the lives of major figures involved in the case. In a flashback, we see defense attorney Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) being stopped for driving while black years before the trial. We see O.J.'s friend/lawyer, Robert Kardashian, struggle with his doubts about O.J.'s innocence.
In one of the strongest segments, we see prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) enduring unbelievable sexism.
"It's like walking into a battle without any armor," Paulson said. "She didn't have any of that razzle dazzle that Cochran had and [the defense team] had. She just wasn't designed as much for public life."
There's meticulous attention to detail, although events are compressed. Obviously. The trial lasted eight months.
"There was an endless obsession over trying to get it right," Alexander said.
But the decision to include several scenes featuring Kardashian's children (future reality stars Kourtney, Kim, Khloe and Rob) is, at best, bizarre. Seeing Kris Kardashian Jenner (Selma Blair) scolding Khloe and Kourtney at Nicole's funeral is totally unnecessary. Hearing Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) beg O.J. not to kill himself "in Kimmy's bedroom" is unintentionally amusing.
"I didn't really think … that people might find it humorous," Schwimmer said. "But everyone brings their own stuff to anything you watch."
And then there's a scene in which Robert Kardashian assures his four children that their "Uncle Juice" didn't kill anyone, although their mother says otherwise. And that fame is not important.
"In this family, being a good person and a loyal friend is more important than being famous," Robert says. "Fame is fleeting. It's hollow. It means nothing at all without a virtuous heart."
Murphy maintained that of more than 400 scenes in the miniseries, "only four or five of them involve the Kardashian children."
That's four or five too many.
And it's not the only misstep. John Travolta is under a distracting amount of makeup to resemble O.J. defense attorney Robert Shapiro.
"I decided to tackle it with a full-court press, if you will, and really try to give as much reality of Robert Shapiro as needed," Travolta said, adding that because Shapiro is "a famous character … that we remember visually," he felt "a duty to certainly adhere to aspects of his physical presence."
Of course, a big part of the viewing audience is too young to remember the O.J. Simpson trial, which, according to producers and other cast members, was a big reason to produce the miniseries.
"I kind of think that it's for them, in a real sense," said Vance, who added a mustache, a Cochrane-esque haircut and glasses to play his part. "I think that's our job, to tell the stories to the people who weren't there."
And not necessarily tell them if O.J. was guilty.
"It's part of the process not to judge your character," Gooding said. "But this was probably the hardest character I've ever played. It was six months of an emotional roller coaster."
The 10-part limited series "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" premieres Tuesday, Feb. 2, on FX 11 p.m. on Comcast; 8 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish Network.